‘The Slow Rush’ is a slow burn

February 28, 2020

It’s been five long years since the release of “Currents,” Tame Impala’s cult favorite, critically acclaimed, third full-length album. Now, with “The Slow Rush,” Kevin Parker––the creator of and mastermind behind Tame Impala––has returned. This long-awaited project, released to much anticipation on Valentine’s Day, is very much a logical progression to Parker’s discography: Long gone are the 60s-inspired, guitar-heavy, psychedelic days of his early works; here, Parker foregrounds synths and disco-friendly percussion, fully embracing the 80s pop sounds that he previously explored on “Currents.” Indeed, “The Slow Rush” is beautifully engineered and mixed, its instrumentals painstakingly produced, layered, then warped in Parker’s signature reverb and tremolo. The final result is a lush, trippy, pleasant-to-listen-to album. But, for all its meticulous craftsmanship, “The Slow Rush” is disappointingly unspectacular, devoid of any engaging, captivating musical passages that have come to define Kevin Parker’s career. 

The album’s biggest offense is simply being boring. Parker has long mastered unexpected beat switches, earning a reputation for his breathtaking juxtapositions of contrasting motifs. It’s perhaps best exemplified in the 2015 song “Let It Happen,” when the track’s haunting synths begin to skip like a record glitch, only for Parker to suddenly introduce the sounds of swelling strings and distorted gibberish vocals. Sadly, “The Slow Rush” is missing these kinds of punchy moments––though it’s not for lack of trying. Near the last minute of “Breathe Deeper,” for instance, Parker takes the song’s dancey, syncopated bass line and reinterprets it in slow, icy synths. It’s a nice outro altogether, but the effect doesn’t quite land––the shift is too restrained and not quite commanding enough to grab the attention of the listener. In fact, most tracks refuse to germinate much beyond their opening bars, oftentimes blandly repeating the same themes over and over. For listeners, it amounts to a sort of auditory blue balls, where it often feels like a song is about to blossom into some grand sonic burst only to fizzle out.

To some degree, the meandering seems intentional. As implied through the lyrics, and even in the project’s oxymoronic title, “The Slow Rush” is a rumination on the passing of time: “We’re on a rollercoaster stuck on its loop-de-loop,” Parker croons through tremolo on the album’s opener “One More Year.” Perhaps Parker intended for the songs’ structure to similarly allude to time’s unreliable pace, using repetition to mirror how life can seem endlessly cyclic or “stuck on its loop-de-loop.” Though drawn-out, monotonous segments make for rather lackluster music, the album’s thematic unity almost justifies its songs’ shapeless construction. Almost.

It’s worth reemphasizing that “The Slow Rush” is still enjoyable for its sounds and vibe in spite of its overall lethargy. The tracks “Breathe Deeper” and “Is It True” are funky and head-bob-worthy. Lyrics from the eternally optimistic “On Track” should resonate with any college student: “More than a minor setback / But strictly speaking, I’m still on track / And all of my dreams are still in sight.” Then there’s “Instant Destiny” and “Tomorrow’s Dust,” which have a sun-drenched, ethereal feel and are ornamented with glittering arpeggiated trills. Even though not much on this project stood out to me on my first listen, the more I revisit this album, the more details I can find to appreciate. 

All things considered, “The Slow Rush” is Tame Impala’s weakest release yet, the whole thing being rather dull and amorphous. But it’s not enough to make me give up on Kevin Parker. At the very least, it’s brilliantly produced and a consistent experience front to back––the kind of album that warrants several relistens, even though most of the songs fall a bit flat. More importantly, “The Slow Rush” has a promising vision, and it makes me excited to see where Parker might go from here. So, here’s hoping that Tame Impala’s next project will be less wandering and more tightly constructed––and that it won’t take another five years to release. 

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